Keeping an eye on spending

Hoboken City Council makes cuts to contracts; increases some meter rates

The Hoboken City Council cut potential contracts and increased parking meter rates as well as introduced an ordinance for a new offer for Academy Bus land.
The Hoboken City Council cut potential contracts and increased parking meter rates as well as introduced an ordinance for a new offer for Academy Bus land.

Facing a multi-million dollar budget gap this year, the Hoboken City Council has taken an ax to more than 20 resolutions, slashing proposed spending and pulling some resolutions that awarded contracts to various companies.

It also adopted an ordinance to increase parking meter rates in the city’s business district from $1 an hour to $2 an hour to increase both revenue and on-street-parking turnover.

Budget gap

The city faces an estimated $7.4 million budget gap due to anticipated increases in personnel costs, among other expenses. This does not include a projected decrease in the city’s surplus account from $21 million to $15 million.

This means the city was facing a budget gap of about $14 million, but according to Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, who is on the council’s finance subcommittee, this gap has now shrunk by approximately $1 million to just under $13 million, with the inclusion of increased PILOT payments that the administration previously hadn’t accounted for in its estimates.

The majority of these payments come from the recently opened development, 7Seventy House at 770 Jackson St.

Slashing spending

Before the council voted on the resolutions, Councilman Michael Russo pulled 21 of the 32 resolutions to be discussed because they all pertained to city spending in the form of contracts and change orders.

“For all of these, I have three questions: What is it? Why is it important? Can we hold off on it?,” said Russo to which Fisher added a fourth question “Can we reduce the amount?”

He noted that in light of the projected budget gap that the city was facing it was important to curtail spending before the council adopts a budget for the 2020 fiscal year.

The total of all the resolutions was approximately $643,000. The largest individual contracts included a $102,550 contract for Lou’s Landscaping for landscape maintenance of Hoboken’s parks and green infrastructure, a $60,000 contract to Maraziti Falcon LLP for redevelopment litigation matters, and a $60,000 contract to McManimon, Scotland & Baumann LLC for public utilities counsel.

Some of these contracts were for the full year, several of which were “not to exceed amounts,” meaning that they were a conservative estimate, and some would be paid for through special trusts like the city’s Open Space Trust Fund.

Of the 21 resolutions, six were pulled from the agenda. The majority of the rest were reduced after city department directors gave the council explanations for each of the resolutions as to what the contracts entailed and if the money was needed before the council convenes again in March.

Considering these reductions, the total amount of spending approved by the council was about $410,000.

Offer for park land

At the end of the same meeting, the council introduced an ordinance with a 7-2 vote, which would allow the city to make an offer for a portion of Academy Bus’s property to expand the Southwest Park.

If approved on second reading, the city would be permitted to make Academy Bus an offer of about $8.5 million for the land.

This is based on the city’s recent appraisal of the property prepared by Federal Appraisal LLC, submitted to the city at the end of January.

Last September, the city began eminent domain proceedings to acquire the property through condemnation and offered Academy Bus $5.3 million.

In November, a judge ordered the parties to renegotiate, after lambasting the city for its “faulty appraisal” and the city’s rezoning of the area.

More parking fee increases

The council also adopted an ordinance to increase meter rates in the city’s business district from $1 an hour to $2 an hour.

Councilman Michael DeFusco called the move a “cash grab,” saying, “This again is curiously timed to the administration’s cleanup program of trying to find money to plug a $7-to-$14 million-dollar budget deficit.”

According to Fisher, the ordinance will generate revenue for the city, but it’s also good policy because it seeks to incentivize turnover of on-street parking, which will bring more shoppers to the business district.

“I wouldn’t call it a cash grab,” Fisher said. “Is it a revenue-generating activity? Yes. Is it time-driven now because we have sensitivities around the budget? Yes. As I said last week, we have a giant budget gap that we have to fill, and we have to look for a lot of different ways to fill it. Potentially jobs are at stake, we have taxes potentially getting increased.”

Councilman Phil Cohen said he supported the meter increases, noting that the Hoboken Chamber of Commerce also supported them.

“I agree … that charging $2 an hour for metered parking on Washington Street, instead of $1 an hour, will create more turnover of parking spots, giving customers more available spots in desirable locations where they want to shop,” Cohen said. “Good for business. Good for customers. Too often, store employees take these prime Washington Street spots. It is my hope that this price increase will encourage employees to use our underutilized municipal lots, rather than Washington Street.”

Russo said that the city provided no data relevant to Hoboken that indicated that the increase in meter fares would increase turnover.

The ordinance passed 5-4. Council members Ruben Ramos, Michael DeFusco, Michal Russo, and Vanessa Falco voted against it.

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